As much as we’d like it to be, planning a wedding isn’t all cake and beautiful white dresses.
It’s wedding season, and if you’re the bride, it’s not uncommon for sticky situations to crop up— family members with opinions that differ wildly from yours; friends with hurt feelings, guests with unexpected issues. Sometimes it can feel like a logistical and emotional roller coaster all in one. And you just wanted a simple celebration! What gives?
“Most people have never planned an event of this scale before,” explains Michelle Rago, event designer and owner of Michelle Rago Destinations in New York City. “They are under pressure with deadlines and need to make decisions that require buy-in from a lot of different people.” This is a difficult spot for inexperienced hosts to be in. To make matters worse, Rago says that a lot of past issues and family upsets tend to creep in to these discussions. “Planning a wedding requires sophisticated, pointed communication skills,” says Rago. And that’s not a talent that comes naturally to all of us. Never fear! Help is on the way. Here are some of the more common situations that Rago sees in her work, along with smart, graceful ways to navigate them:
Sticky situation No. 1
The bride’s parents are hosting the wedding but the groom’s parents keep adding to the guest list.
It’s best to get out in front of this problem with early talks about the size of the party you and your groom prefer. If both sets of parents know from the outset that they can only invite 20 people, for example, this problem may never rear its head. But even with clear limits given at the outset, guest list creep happens easily. If the bride’s parents are hosting and agree that they are able to accommodate a few extra names on the invite list, that’s fine. But if the numbers climb past what is economically comfortable for them to do, it’s time for a different tack. At that point, Rago suggests saying something like, “If you want to invite an additional 30 guests, you’re welcome to host them.” This allows the party to grow if it is truly that important to the groom’s family.
Sticky situation No. 2
Opposing opinions are pulling you apart!
Roses vs tulips. Corinthians vs. Ecclesiastes. DJ vs. Band. Rice vs potatoes. Multiple decisions can mean multiple opinions. Rago believes firmly that this is where a planner can really be helpful, acting as an objective third party who is able to listen to all sides and accommodate everyone’s wishes (most importantly, the bride and groom’s!). It is often easier to have a neutral party explain the decision to everyone. If you are acting as your own planner, however, you can still handle it like a pro.
First step: acknowledge the issue so the person who called it to your attention feels you have listened and understood. Next, try to find something everyone can agree on. If cake flavors have become a battleground, for example, “make one tier chocolate and another one raspberry. Really try to come up with a solution,” says Rago. She says that it also helps to have someone you can lean on as a confidante such as a trusted aunt or a friend who is not one of your maids, and therefore has a slightly more removed perspective. Having an impartial sounding board can be extremely helpful, making you more likely to approach each new tug of war calmly.
Sticky situation No. 3
It’s well past your RSVP deadline and you hate to be a nudge but you are still missing answers from key people.
“Not RSVPing has become a national epidemic,” complains Rago. So don’t take it personally. Your friend is likely not weighing your party invitation against someone else’s. She just hasn’t gotten around to answering you yet. This is not a time to be shy or worry that you are bothering people. You need to call or email all non-responders. “When creating your guest list, be sure that you have emails and phone numbers recorded just for this situation,” says Rago. You don’t want to be scrambling to find people when you are down to the wire and the caterer is demanding a final head count.
Rago also suggests mailing invitations a little earlier than most wedding to-do lists recommend. “This gives people a little more time to respond and builds in time to get answers. I like invitations to go out 6–8 weeks in advance of the date.” Start dialing your non-responders 10–14 days after the RSVP deadline.
Sticky situation No. 4
An invited guest is asking for a “plus one” but you have already ruled against them.
If your guest is not living with this person or engaged or married to them, then you have every right to stick to your guns and politely explain that you must say no to this request. There will be times, however, when you may want to break your own rule, which is where things start to veer into the gray area.
Rago says that these decisions have to be made on a case by case basis. If you drew up the wedding list a year ago and a close friend has since met someone and fallen in love, you may want to allow the addition. On the flip side, if your friend is a serial dater, constantly breaking up with everyone, you can feel justified in saying no. (But stick to a polite, “we just don’t have it in our budget to accommodate plus ones.”) Rago also points out that there are moments when you may allow a plus one because it helps the balance of your party. If you have too many young people of one sex, for example, the plus one may actually benefit you.
Sticky situation No. 5
Two different faiths need to be accommodated in one ceremony and tensions are building.
You are not the first to face this challenge. Many couples have found creative ways to honor both families’ faiths. Start by spending time talking about what each family needs and what each one can tolerate. “This is very important. The ceremony is the real reason why everyone is here,” says Rago. Often, the solution involves a combined presence—for example, a rabbi and a minister together may be involved in one ceremony that reflects both religions. Or, two separate religious ceremonies can take place—sometimes one has a smaller guest list than the other.
I attended a wedding recently and was delighted to find that I was being treated to two ceremonies, one immediately after the other. The first was a traditional Indian ceremony followed by a traditional Western ceremony. The bride and groom even changed clothes during an “intermission.” One of the nicest things about this was the program we were given which explained each ceremony and the significance of its parts.
“Take the time to educate and give a short description of what is going on,” says Rago. If a ceremony is going to take place in two languages, such as Hebrew and English, use the program to translate for everyone. For some couples, the solution is to have a spiritual ceremony, but one which does not mention any specific religion. The idea is to try out a number of different solutions before you find the one that best represents you as a couple and honors both of your families.
If you are having a religious ceremony, but would like a friend of another faith to play a role, think about having him or her doing a literary reading, rather than a biblical passage, which you can ask a member of your family to read. If you wish to keep your wedding readings from the bible, you can also reserve some time for your friend to speak at the rehearsal dinner or reception, instead of during the ceremony.
Sticky situation No. 6
You don’t want to turn a happy event into a downer, but you want to acknowledge a deceased loved one at the wedding.
A quiet but meaningful way to honor and remember a loved one who has passed away is to mention him or her in the wedding program. You might say, “In honor of the bride’s mother, Madeline Strong, we dedicate this poem.” Or simply, “We miss you, Mom, and know you are here with us.”
Alternately, a special prayer can be said during the wedding Mass. Or the best man or a parent might mention the loved one in a speech at the wedding with just a brief few sentences. “In this way the person really feels present for everyone,” says Rago.
Sticky situation No. 7
You have to invite a person who is known for excessive drinking and bad behavior. Is it too much to ask that he get his act together for your wedding?
“If you know someone who is difficult, be a realist,” says Rago. “A difficult person will be difficult on your big day, too. Don’t think he won’t.” But the good news is that you know about this person in advance so there are certain steps you can take to keep him under control.
“Try to designate someone within the family to be assigned to that person,” says Rago. Having someone there to keep an eye out means that at least you don’t have to worry about him or deal with him during your big day. You should also instruct the bartender to water down drinks for a heavy drinker. Just have a bridesmaid point him out to the staff at the beginning of the party.
Sticky situation No. 8
You were a maid in a friend’s wedding but you don’t want to include her in your wedding party.
Choosing bridesmaids can be a very difficult decision, especially if you have a big family or a lot of friends. Even though you may be tempted to solve the problem by asking everyone you know, Rago advises keeping the numbers small. “I encourage brides to do the smallest group they can,” she says. “Large groups are hard to manage and it can take a lot of a bride’s energy to get nine women to do what she wants them to do. Plus: that’s a lot of hair and makeup!”
Once you have made your decision, share it honestly with anyone who might feel hurt or confused by your choice. Rago suggests saying something like: “You’re so important to me and I really want to rely on you during this time, but my fiancé and I have a made a decision to have small bridal parties. I chose to have just my oldest friend and my two sisters.” Although this can be a hard announcement to make, she will appreciate the fact that you took the time to tell her about the decision yourself and will feel reassured that your relationship with her means a lot to you.
To take it a step further, it’s nice to find another way to include her, either at a ladies’ lunch days before the wedding or as a reader at the wedding.
Sticky situation No. 9
You asked a friend to D-I-Y something for you. She did. And now you hate it.
Hopefully it never gets this far! If you are asking someone to work on a wedding project for you, be clear and upfront about what you want from the very beginning. If a friend who is an artist is designing wedding signage for you, for example, show her an example of your ideas. Rago suggests that you call yourself out for being finicky. Say: “I’m a little type A about this right now and I have a vision. Can we talk about this before you get started? Maybe we can try a sample together first?”
Unfortunately, there is still a chance you will end up with something you don’t like. If that happens, you need to consider your alternatives. Can you live with it or not? Probably you can. If not, you are going to have to face the fact that there will be hurt feelings. Say, “I’m really sorry and I appreciate all your effort. But I want to do something else.”
Sticky situation No. 10
I have a special relationship with one aunt and I would like her at the rehearsal dinner. But inviting her means the other aunts and uncles will want to come, too, and I don’t want my rehearsal dinner to be large.
It’s probably not a good idea to include her and exclude others. But there are other ways to make her feel special. “Make a point to have some private time with her,” says Rago. You can tell her at that private meeting how important she is to you and maybe present her with a framed photo of the two of you together. “It’s all about acknowledgement and communication,” says Rago, not about whether she is invited to every event.
All in all, wedding planning is a fun time and there will be so many moments to enjoy and treasure. Knowing that you will also face some challenges during this period is just part of being a bride.
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